Norton Makes Life Easier & Faster

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, August 20, 1993

Symantec/Peter Norton Group
250 The Esplanade, 5th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5A 1J2
(416) 366-0423
fax (416) 366-4453

Price:  Norton Utilities: $189; $59 upgrade
        SpeedCache+: $99, $19 for Norton utilities users (
        limited time only)
Requires: DOS 3.3 or higher, 640k RAM, approx 6 mb hard disk space.

Peter Norton made his fame and fortune back in the mid-80's with a
simple realization; when you delete a file using DOS, the actual
file doesn't disappear. Instead, the first letter of the file's name
is replaced with the Greek letter sigma, which signals that it won't
be listed in the directory listing, and that other information can
be written in the space occupied by that file.

Using this bit of PC-trivia, he proceeded to write a (in
retrospect), simple little utility, enabling a users to recover a
mistakenly-deleted file, if used soon enough.

That opened up the field of data recover utilities. And since Paul
Mace, soon after, came up with a technique to (sometimes) recover
accidently formatted hard disks, everything else has been

Since then, the Norton Utilities (lately owned by Symantec), the
Mace Utilities (lately owned by Fifth Generation,), and PC Tools
(from the beginning owned by Central Point Software) have kept busy
adding features and enhancements, and trying hard to stay one step
in front of the competition.

The Mace Utilities haven't been enhanced for a couple of years, but
PC Tools is now up to a recently released version 8.0. They've
pursued a strategy of adding everything imaginable, and then some,
to the data recovery package. They've got a file manager, a backup
program, several calculators, a text editor, a small database, and
more on top of the core utilities.

The Norton team has taken a different tack. They've pretty much
stuck to the original theme-- give users the tools to keep their
computers running smoothly, and to recover as much as possible,
should disaster strike.

And they've managed to make these powerful features relatively easy
for users to manage, without requiring advanced degrees in computer

The Norton Utilities run under DOS. Some will happily run from
Windows (and include PIF files and icons to let you do that). Others
would be potentially dangerous if run in a multitasking environment,
and are smart enough to not let you run them that way. You can start
each directly from the DOS command line, or from the simple Norton
master screen.

Here, you get a simple, sorted list of the utilities on the left. On
the right, is an explanation, that changes as you scroll (or mouse
click) down the list. The explanation includes most of the possible
parameters. On the bottom is a command line, ready for you to type.
A nice touch... you get an arrow mouse cursor, even though you're in
DOS text mode; most other DOS programs give you a clunky rectangle
in that mode.

(You could, if you choose, add your own programs to the list, along
with home-made explanations. I suppose you could use this as a
menuing program to start all your programs, if you really wanted to
spend all your live working from the Norton Utilities).

The big news in version 7.0 is support for drives that have been
compressed using DOS 6's DoubleSpace, or the commercial alternatives
Stacker and SuperStor. Here's some of what you get:

Data Recovery Tools

-- UnErase and UnFormat. If you already have DOS 5 or 6, you have
simplified versions of these programs. The Norton versions will
sometimes succeed when the DOS versions (licensed from competitor
Central Point) won't work. A cute, graphical Safe Format program,
and Image, similar to DOS 5/6 (and PC Tools') Mirror, for creating
backup copies of your File Allocation Tables, to aid in recovery.
As well, you can recover files across networked drives.

-- Norton Disk Doctor. This automatically repairs many hard disk
problems. It is so simple and so powerful that it can seem almost
miraculous when it 'cures' a hard disk that was previously
unreadable. If you're lucky, you may never need to use this, but if
you need it, you'll be happy you have it.

-- Disk Editor. While NDD is blessedly automatic, Disk Editor lets
you manually explore, change, fix (or break) your disk drive. As well as
supporting compressed drives, there is a new Advanced Recovery Mode.
The documentation covering this admittedly advanced tool is very
well written. Even if you never use it, you can learn a lot about
how your computer and drives work by browsing the manual.

-- File Fix. Knows about the formats of common word
processor, speadsheet, and database files so that these can often be
repaired, if unreadable.

-- Recovery. This was formerly buried as an option in the Disk Fix
program, but has been promoted to a utility of its own. This will
create a recovery disk, with the DOS and Norton Utility files
needed to (usually) get your machine back up and running if you can'
t boot from your hard drive. Run this once, and keep that floppy in
a safe place.

Performance Enhancers

While steroids are banned from amateur sports, performance enhancers
for your computer are more welcome. Here you get:

-- Speed Disk. DOS 6 includes DEFRAG, licensed from Symantec, to
optimize files on your hard disk to improve performance. Like
Defrag, the new version of Speed Disk is aware of compressed drives.
But Symantec obviously kept the good stuff to themselves. While
Defrag works adequately on uncompressed drives, on a compressed hard
disk, it is SLOW. I found myself starting it late, and
letting it run overnight. Speed Disk has done the same job for me in
well under 30 minutes. Regular disk defragmentation really improves
performance; with Speed Disk, you're more likely to make it part of
your regular routine. (By the way, the version of Speed Disk
included with the Norton Desktop for Windows ver. 2.2 update is NOT
recommended for compressed disks... currently, you need the Norton
Utilities version).

-- Norton Cache. This is Windows compatible, and, like the other
utilities, enhanced to work with compressed drives. On the other
hand, it's not that much better than the current version of
SmartDrive included with DOS 6.

-- NDOS. This is a licensed version of the shareware 4DOS, with
replaces COMMAND.COM. (Yes, you can replace !). It uses
less memory, while providing about 200 extra command line options.
Many 'power-users' swear by NDOS or 4DOS, and I've never heard
anyone swear at it. If you LIKE working at the DOS command line, you'
ll love this one... if you avoid the command line as much as
possible, you can choose not to install it.

-- Calibrate. Another big moment in utility history was when Steve
Gibson's product SpinRite provided users a way to optimize hard disk
interleave. Calibrate duplicates SpinRite's features. The majority
of new hard drives are IDE models, which don't require interleave
adjustment, however. This is most useful to owners of older MFM or
RLE drives.

Hardware Diagnostics

This is something new... a series of tests that checks how your
computer is running, to identify problems before they happen.  There
are tests for your motherboard CPU and memory, for your disks, your
video, speaker, mouse and keyboard. As well, you
can order an optional set of loop back plugs ($29) to provide extra
testing of your serial and parallel ports.

In addition, there's still the System Information program. At one
time, Norton SI gave a single screen summarizing the pertinent facts
about your computer, along with a score claiming to represent how
much faster your computer and hard drive were compared to an
original IBM XT (4.77 mhz 8088). SI scores were widely reported in
ads, even though many claimed that they tended to exagerrate
performance. System Information is a lot more sophisticated now (and
hence less useful for advertisers), providing many screen-fulls of
graphs and tests.

That's not all, folks

There are a host of little programs... some you'll love, some you'll
probably ignore. For example:

DISKREET and WIPE-INFO. Diskreet lets you password protect part or
all of your drive, and encrypts files. Wipe-info writes over deleted
files, so you can't use undeletion utilities to recover the data. If
Oliver North had used this, there would never have been any evidence
of Irangate. (Really!)

LINE-PRINT. Huse improvement over the DOS Print command. Adds page
breaks, headers with date and file-name, and muck more if you're
printing text files from the command line. I use it to print text
files on my postscript printer.

DUP-DISK. Have you become frustrated using the DOS Diskcopy command
with a high density disk and having to swap source and target disks
back and forth? Sure you have. Dup-disk uses expanded or extended
memory, or if necessary, hard drive space to let you copy any sized
floppy in a single pass.

FILE FIND. This lets you search your disks for a file by name, or by
the data written in them. Want to find every file  you've written
with the word "apple"?

LOTS MORE that have been part of the Norton Utilities for years.
Batch enhancers to add sounds, boxes, questions, and more to your
batch files. A Control Center to change DOS colours, keyboard speed,
or set a timer on or off (useful when you're billing clients by the
hour). Norton CD to manage your directory structure... rename, move,
prune parts of your directory tree.

Even with this bunch of minor utilities, the Norton Utilities,
version 7.0 remains true to its past. It's still the most powerful,
easiest to use collection of data recovery tools around. It hasn't
emulated PC Tools' attempt to be a software Swiss Army Knife,
providing everything imaginable. Instead, it's more like a
stiletto... fast and to the point (ouch!), doing a limited number of
things very well. Even if you never need its data recovery features,
it's reassuring to know they're there. And if you have compressed
your hard drive, you should get this one, if only for its speedy,
compressed disk-aware Speed Disk defragmenter.


At the same time, Symantec has released a product marketed as the
Norton SpeedCache+ ver 4.0. I found this a bit peculiar for a couple
of reasons. The Norton Utilities already includes a cache, NCache,
and what ever happened to version 1-3?

Well, version 4 seems to be the first version of this product
released under the Norton name. Earlier versions were marketed by
its developer, Future Systems Solutions.

They're claiming that this cache speeds up Windows and DOS
drives "by as much as 400%". For many users, this will not be true.
That figure is perhaps true compared to running no cache at all. But
if you're using DOS 5 or 6, or Windows 3.0 or 3.1, then you
already have a cache, Smartdrive. And using the benchmark utility
included with SpeedCache+, I found little speed difference reported
between it and the DOS 6 version of Smartdrive, using the default
installations of both caches.

Speedcache+ will appeal to two sorts of users, however. One is
people who just LOVE to tinker with their computer's setup. (You
know who you are!) Lots of command line switches, and a Windows
utility, ASSIST, with more options than you'll know what to do with.
Cache sizes up to 23 meg!
And that separate Windows program, Disk Performance Tester to let
you create neat bar graphs comparing your performance as you change
all those options.

While the computer hot rodders will love to play with SpeedCache+,
it will be invaluable for another group of computer users... owners
of CD-ROM drives.

Most of the current crop of disk caches refuse to look at CD-ROM
players. And they're needed... even the newest and fastest of CD-ROM
drives is many times slower than the slowest of hard drives, to say
nothing of the 15 msec or faster drives of today.

SpeedCache+ works with CD-ROM players, and works well. If you've got
a CD-ROM player, get it.

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from Norton fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan